July 16, 2024
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July 16, 2024
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Jewish Community Jumps Into Action to Support the IDF

From left: Aviva Cohen and Natalie Jonas.

It all started when a few people in Bergen County looked for anyone driving to Woodmere who could take supplies to a group collecting donations for the IDF. Then they thought: Why not do it here?

Bergen County Supports Israel quickly became a WhatsApp group that is attracting energetic, passionate volunteers with a drive to help, who donated supplies as requested by the IDF. The items are sorted, packed in duffle bags—over 700 have been donated by Amazing Savings—and sent to Israeli army bases. A registry set up on Amazon has resulted in $50,000 worth of merchandise to date. The group only takes supplies, no money.

After collection and packing sessions at CareOne Rehabilitation in Teaneck, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck and Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, an office donated by Meyer Muschal has become the main collection and distribution site, with Care One also collecting and packing medical supplies. WhatsApp groups are sending out lists of supplies needed.

Donny Knoll and Chana Lipener packing boxes.

At the office, there are several rooms with supplies that have been sorted into boxes. Rooms are labeled by categories like “Medical” and “Personal.” In the first days, when many Israelis living here were called back to their units, the office acted as a tzahal chayal shop where the soldiers came and filled duffels with what they needed and took them on their flight. Daniel Straus of CareOne chartered a plane for supplies that were sent to organizations like Brothers in Arms, which then distributed them to army bases. A flight was chartered by Tzahal Central Command through a local freight carrier for 500 bags. Currently, volunteers are mainly filling requests from units in Israel. Duffels are going with families on their way to Israel who have agreed to take them. The baggage fee is being paid by other volunteers. There’s a system in place for getting the duffle bags to the units that have requested them.

Ari Wartelsky, who has been sending out updates about what supplies are needed, where to bring them and when volunteers are needed, said, “The response from the community has been off the charts.” He recalled the first meeting at Ma’ayanot when someone asked, ‘What organization is this?’ The answer was ‘none.’ But people there met each other and found that several had amazing skills and contacts. Some knew about shipping, some had experience with airlines, some would do anything they could. They gelled into a cohesive group, if not an official organization.

The room with medical supplies.

Brian Nave is one of the people who answered the call to volunteer and found that his skills were just what the effort required. With a background in industrial real estate alongside his connections with various logistics partners, he was able to assist CareOne and Lizzy Straus with air freight and ground logistics. They were able to move the mountains of essential medical supplies from CareOne to JFK and eventually to Israel. They found a way to get medical supplies to the airport that had to be there within two hours. They knew people to donate trucks, get a forklift and load two trailers in an hour. Then they had to get to JFK Airport in rush hour. Teaneck and Fort Lee police arranged a motorcade. “It’s all about community and us coming together to support our brothers and sisters in Israel,” Nave said.

Sol Itzkowitz heads the organization Chaverim and got involved when he received a request from the group collecting supplies at CareOne for logistical help with loading, unloading and packing. Chaverim has 350 members who respond to people in need. They get requests for help for everything from flat tires to flooded basements. They train with local ambulance services for potential mass casualties. Itzkowitz has been at CareOne now for days with other volunteers from his group, helping to pack and ship vital military supplies, medical supplies and things like baby formula and flashlights. “My real life is on hold,” he said. He also sends requests for help and supplies through his WhatsApp group. “We put out a message and it gets to thousands of people.”

Ari Wartelsky

Nave emphasized that this is a community effort and not just for Bergen County, with volunteers from Passaic and other areas as well. They will be doing this for as long as needed. He thinks the next phase will be to help civilians, including families and victims of the attack but that’s still in the planning stages. Meanwhile, they are still getting requests from the IDF. “We’re all exhausted but with great effort we’re getting the needs met,” he said.

Another WhatsApp group got last-minute Shabbos meals to 200 soldiers who were delayed at Newark Airport last week. People following Great Kosher North Jersey, an offshoot of Great Kosher Restaurants Foodies run by Elan Kornblum, coordinated purchasing and delivering food from Seasons Teaneck, ShopRite in Englewood, Maadan, Colbeh and others.

“When I got the request to help, I thought, How are we going to get food for 200 people an hour before Shabbos? Kornblum said. “But I knew my chat wouldn’t let us down. It’s inspiring to see fellow Jews jumping at a moment’s notice to help other Jews, especially soldiers going off to war in Israel. We all want to help, and this was a direct way of helping. It took a lot of intense coordination but we got it done.”

Ari Leitman at ShopRite in Englewood, with food purchased for IDF soldiers delayed at Newark Airport over Shabbat. (Credit: Elan Kornblum)
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